Do Kids Need Friends? (page 3)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Apr 21, 2014

Encouraging children's friendships

What Schools Can Do

For children who require individual help several different formats are presently in use:

  • Children are taught social skills individually by an adult coach or counselor and then they practice the new strategies.
  • Peer pairing therapy; two children with difficulties interact while they receive feedback from an adult coach. In some instances a shy child is matched with a more outgoing child.

For group interventions in the classroom:

  • Conflict resolution programs teach children alternate ways of handling problems through peer counselors or adult-supervised techniques.
  • Collaborative learning, cooperative assignments and games or "buddy systems" may foster alliances and encourage positive peer interactions.
  • Reinforcement of appropriate social skills may enhance a socially reluctant child's social interaction.

What Parents Can Do

  • Let your child know that you feel friendships are important and worth the effort.
  • Respect your child's social style; some children do best with a host of friends, and some do best with a few close friends. Some make friends quickly, and some warm up to friends slowly.
  • Find practical ways you can help your child make room in his/her life for being with other children. This is especially important if your child is shy or reluctant about peer interactions. For example, be flexible about family schedules so that your child can find time to be with friends. Offer your home or offer to accompany children on outings. You might also make arrangements for your family to spend time with another family that has a similar-age child. Or, you could make concrete suggestions, such as "You can invite somebody to go to the pool with us on Saturday?"

Although some parents may sometimes feel as if they're being too pushy by adopting such strategies, recently completed research shows that children who were more well adjusted socially had parents who were more involved in their children's social activities.

If your child has a problem with a friend, encourage him/her to talk about it and think together about some possible ways to handle similar situations when they arise in the future. It is important to help the child handle the situation in a positive way, and too help her understand her own reactions and feelings. For example, if a friend was uncaring or made an insensitive remark you might say "Maybe your friend was having a bad day" rather than "She was mean to you on purpose because she really doesn't like you."

If your child was teased, help him plan good ways of responding in the future. Sympathize if the child is upset, but try to be matter-of-fact (even if you are upset yourself) and let him know that all kids get teased at one time or another. Find out exactly what he is being teased about; there may be something he can or should do to correct a situation that may be irritating to his peers. Remind him that ignoring teasing, instead of responding emotionally, reduces the chances of teasing recurring. Role play typical situations and develop adaptive ways of responding to teasing. In general, involving teachers can make the situation worse, unless the problem has snowballed and involves a consistent pattern in which your child is being victimized by the same classmates repeatedly.

If your child is finding it difficult to be with other children or to make friends, which may be the case with children having hearing, speech or other problems, or who are very shy, try to create easier situations for socializing. You might invite just one child over to play, since larger groups complicate social interaction. Monitor their play and intervene when necessary to help things along. It's best to help them reach their own solution to a difficulty rather than solving the problem for them.

Model appropriate social behavior; children learn a great deal from their parents. If your child seems increasingly anxious about socializing, shows no interest in peers or is consistently unable to get along with classmates, consider professional help.

Know your child's friends. With adolescents, parents have less opportunity to control their youngster's peer networks; nevertheless parents should remain involved and interested in their youngster's social life - should be knowledgeable about their child's friends, get to know them, ask questions about social activities and stay informed.

When parents don't like their child's friends

Parents all want their kids to have friends who are polite, honest, and bright, who don't drink or smoke or use drugs. Parents want to protect their kids and at the same time encourage independence. Many of the friendships parents worry about are short-lived. Often children discover that a friend they admired at first is really not so terrific. Allowing an objectionable friendship to run its course, will work better than actively trying to stop it. Address the need that the friendship satisfies; ask the child what it is that he likes about that particular friend. The answer may give you some clues about the real reason he's attracted to that friend. However, parents have to distinguish between experimentation and danger. Children have to learn to deal with all kinds of people, and short of keeping them in the house day and night, there aren't many alternatives. When the issues are threatening and potentially dangerous, such as when the child aligns himself only with children who are belligerent or who engage in antisocial or delinquent acts, then parents have a responsibility to discourage the association. When behavior is unacceptable it must be stopped.

Parental support, trust, patience, common sense, and luck will help children acquire the ability to deal competently with social interactions. Children need knowledgeable and sympathetic guides to help them get along with people, feel good about themselves, and be responsible for their actions.

About the Authors

Alice Pope, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, St. John's University, has authored numerous publications on peer relations.


1. Rose, AJ & Asher, SR. (2000) Children's friendships. In Close Relationships: A Sourcebook . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

2. Hartup, WW & Stevens, N (1999) Friendships and adaptation across the life span. Current directions in psychological science. 8, 3, 76-79.

3. Ladd, GW (1990) Having friends, keeping friends, making friends, and being liked by peers in the classroom: Predictors of children's early school adjustment? Child Development, 67,1081-1100.

4. Berndt,TJ & Keefe, K (1992) Friends' influence on adolescents' perceptions of themselves in school. In DH Schunk & JL Meece (Eds.) Student Perceptions in the Classroom (pp. 51-73). Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum

5. Dishion, TJ, Andrews, DW & Crosby, L (1995) Anti-social boys and their friends in early adolescence: Relationship characteristics, quality, and interactional process. Child Development, 66, 139-151.

Related Books

Good Friends Are Hard to Find F. Frankel Perspective Books 1996

Teaching Friendship Skills (Primary Version and Intermediate Version) P. Huggins The Assist Program Sopris West 1140 Boston Avenue Longmont, Colorado 80501

Bullies and Victims: Helping Your Child Through the Schoolyard Battlefield S. Fried & P. Fried Evans Books 1996

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About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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